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The Weekly Interview: The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn

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Home on the road: Finn, far left, and The Hold Steady perform at Vinyl this weekend.
Chris Bitonti

How’s the tour going so far? Good. I’m actually at the airport in San Francisco; we’re flying to Philly, and it’s been going really well. We’ve been out for quite a while, and it’s been fun. We’ve been playing a lot of one-offs the last few years, so it’s really good to get on the bus and get in a routine, knocking off four or five or six shows a week. Puts you in much better momentum. The band is playing really well, and the shows have been really fun.

So many musicians complain about being on the road. (Laughs) Honestly, if you’re in a band, you spend at best one month every 18 making a record, and a lot more time touring. So if you don’t like the touring, it’s probably time to look elsewhere.

Your sister used to live in Las Vegas, right? She did, for a number of years. She lives in Minneapolis now; she works in public relations.

Did you spend much time visiting her out here? The one memory I have is after one of those Beauty Bar shows. It was Easter, and I quit drinking for Lent each year. Then I went out and went crazy in Vegas. So much so that I got sick, and that made me lose my voice. It wasn’t so much for the Vegas shows but for the ones that followed. I remember Sacramento was the first show, and I was really stressed out because I didn’t have any voice.

In listening to the commentary for the new record, it sounds like a lot of your inspiration is from literature. David Foster Wallace’s work, in particular, came up a few times. Absolutely. I read Infinite Jest for the first time on the touring for the last record and I got kind of obsessed. I read everything he’s written, then I started reading every single interview he’s ever done. So, in the four years between records I became sort of a Foster Wallace scholar (laughs), if you will. It is very fascinating to me, because there are so many times I’m reading him and I’m saying, “This guy has it all figured out.” And then, of course, you remember that he killed himself. So there’s a real sadness to his work, a real complexity. He seems to really relate but also predict certain things about the way we evolve and the way technology is part of that and how our brains work. So I became really fascinated with it, and it ended up influencing a lot of the record.

A few themes pop up a lot in your writing—summer, advice for youth, coming home, the deeper meaning of rock ’n’ roll … I think there’s a lot of tension between leaving and staying. That might come from growing up in the Midwest, where people in their 20s would sit around the bar stools and talk about where they were gonna move to and never do it. I think there’s this tension between the place you’re from and maybe the place you want to go to. And then if that doesn’t work out, the way we tend to have our identities tied up into these things. I really find the concept of home very interesting and trying to get out, or wanting to get out or being resigned to stay. …

And I always felt like summer is interesting, because when you’re younger it kind of allows you to reset, to reinvent yourself. I don’t know if you remember anyone who came back to school in the fall kind of different, changed it up over the summer. I had a romantic notion of that.

You guys recorded March album Teeth Dreams in Nashville instead of Brooklyn. Why? It’s the first record we made outside of the New York area, and the short answer is, the producer wanted to do it there. He owns the studio, we wanted to work with him and he felt really strongly about working in his own place. But the benefit was, as everyone gets older and a few people have kids, it’s nice to get out of town and get away from responsibilities and just focus on the record. We lived together in a house in Nashville and cooked together, so there was a communal thing that kind of helped the record.

I know you’re from Minneapolis originally, but The Hold Steady seems so synonymous with that first wave of Brooklyn indie-rock acts from the early 2000s. I wonder, what it says about the Brooklyn scene that you guys recorded in Nashville instead of there. Well, Nashville feels like it’s becoming another Brooklyn. It’s a great city, and it’s becoming a lot less about country. There is more rock and more other things happening, and I think a lot of people are moving there from other places. It’s cheap to buy houses. I think a lot of people are like, “Is this going to affect the sound of the record?” because Nashville has obvious musical connotations with it being country. But our songs were already written in New York, so it was just the physical act of recording that we did in Nashville.

You’re celebrating 10 years as a band this year. Thoughts? Many of my favorite bands didn’t make it to 10 years and six records. I mean, look at The Beatles—they did their career in nine years. So it is kind of crazy, but I think the reason that this longevity has happened is that we continue to have fun with it. It remains fun to travel around and make music and get to meet people.

You guys are opening for The Replacements in New York and Minneapolis in September. That must seem surreal. It’s crazy. They’re my favorite band of all time. You couldn’t dream up a better show for me. I’m ecstatic about those and really honored that we’re getting to play.

The Hold Steady With Cheap Girls. August 2, 9 p.m., $20-$25. Vinyl, 702-693-5000.

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